Council approves labor agreement for Oakland Army Base redevelopment

Oakland's City Council debates the language of a project labor agreement.

Oakland's City Council debates the language of a project labor agreement.

As dozens of brightly-clad teamsters and members of many local unions filled the city council chambers in matching T-shirts, the city council Tuesday evening approved a set of hiring and staffing policies to ensure a local workforce for the redevelopment project at the site of the former Oakland Army Base.

This summer, the council approved a series of agreements with Oakland-based developer California Capital and Investment Group for the conversion of the 366-acre site–which sits directly beside the port, at the base of the Bay Bridge–into a state-of-the-art shipping, packaging and distribution facility. Foremost on the city council’s priorities for the project since the summer has been an effort to ensure Oakland residents are first in line for jobs during construction of the facility, as well as during its ongoing operation.

An air of expectation filled the audience of union members as the council prepared for the vote. “I want to thank everyone who worked on this for many, many months,” Councilmember Jane Brunner said of the labor agreement scheduled for a vote that evening.

Meeting in special session, the council approved final language for a project labor agreement (PLA) for the Army Base redevelopment. Developed with input from the city administrator’s office and local labor unions, the PLA is intended to guide the staffing policies for all unions used in the development. The PLA stipulates that the involved unions use Oakland residents for at least half of the roughly 2,800 construction positions the project is expected to create in the first stage of building.

The PLA also requires that at least 20 percent of employees used in the project be apprentice-level workers, that at least 50% of these apprentices be Oakland residents, and that all new apprentices–that is, workers new to the construction industry–be Oakland residents.

“We want Oakland residents not only to have a job,” said councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, “but to have the training to get jobs in the future.”

Vacated by the Army in 1999, the Oakland base was a primary transfer facility for equipment and supplies into the Pacific Theater from World War II through to the first Gulf War. The current development plan has already secured $484 million in funding to create an advanced processing facility next to the Port of Oakland.

“It’s one of the strongest local hiring policies most of us have seen,” said Al Auletta, program manager for the city’s Office of Neighborhood Investment, adding that the local employment the development could create over the next decade could make “a 400-500 million dollar infrastructure project for Oakland.”

In addition the union members in the audience, representatives of numerous local organizations came to the council chambers to support the new agreements: The East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), The Revive Oakland Coalition, Causa Justa, and The Urban Peace Movement, among others. A number of local residents also spoke in public forum, urging the council to approve the PLA and to thereby speed along the creation of job opportunities associated with the development.

“I believe Oakland could be the center of where good work and good jobs happen,” said Brian Woodson, local pastor and member of the Revive Oakland Coalition. “Unions have a controversial past, but I believe they have a bright future.”

The union showing of support for the PLA was strong, but there were also some who attacked the PLA as a document that shows favoritism to unions over nonunion tradespeople.

“It constricts workers,” said Nicole Goehring, Government Affairs Director for Northern California Associated Builders and Contractors. “Anyone outside a union would have to join one to be hired.”

The crowd of more than 30 union workers jeered Goehring, calling out that she herself should join a union.

“It’s a big enough project that most of the employees would be union no matter what,” said councilmember Jane Brunner of the Army Base redevelopment. “But if we didn’t pass the PLA, the unions would have no accountability to hire Oakland residents.”

The PLA was approved by a vote of 6-1, with councilmember Delsey Brooks voting no after making a plea for clearer language in the 77-page agreement.

Before the vote on the PLA, the council also tentatively approved the creation of an oversight committee to monitor full compliance with the city’s 50-percent-local job policy throughout the project. The committee will consist of eleven members, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by a city council vote. The committee will be created in cooperation with unions and three local organizations: the West Oakland Community Advisory Group, the Revive Oakland Coalition and the OaklandWORKS Coalition. The council will give final approval to this committee during their scheduled session on November 13.

Also brought up Tuesday were the eviction notices presented this week to the businesses that now operate on the site of the former army base, which include the 32 film and television industry outfits that make up the Oakland Film Center. The grant used by California Capital to fund the project requires that ground be broken by June 2013, and the businesses on the site have long known a re-location would come. But tenants were surprised by eviction notices that arrived earlier than expected, before any interaction between city and tenants regarding a relocation plan.

Many members of the council expressed their disapproval that these notices were sent so abruptly, and without council input. “It’s not right that the people who thought they were going to be part of the process are being excluded,” councilmember Jane Brunner said.

Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell assured councilmembers and present tenants of the site that the city administrator’s office plans to discuss relocation plans with tenants soon.

The council also unanimously approved an amendment, proposed by councilmember Brooks, which will add two new requirements to the Army Base redevelopment plan. The amended rules will require site developers to provide weekly reports on the names, addresses and pay of all their employees. In addition, as part of this reporting policy, developers will have to submit its payroll info into a website where it will be publicly displayed in real time. The council members said they hoped this amendment will make the developer more accountable in its hiring practices.

Many councilmembers took time to speak to the idea that a redevelopment of the former army base site has been a long time coming. “I can’t wait until these jobs are created and Oakland residents are earning a decent living there,” said council president Larry Reid.

Correction: This story was updated on Nov. 2 to include certain corrections on specific details of the PLA.

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